Cars & Technology of the Future

Cars & Technology of the Future

vw-e-Golf, all electric

VW’s glimpse of the future

What’s Coming in Cars; Some Is Already Here

The fifth annual “Future Cars, Future Technology” event put on by the Western Automotive Journalists’ association on Oct. 17, offered several glimpses of the future. You could drive a prototype electric Volkswagen Golf, due to go on sale next year, or hear an executive from the California Air Resources Board predict that future pickup trucks would be powered by fuel cells. Or you could hear that according to Stanford’s Dr. Sven Beiker we don’t really know what distraction is so figuring out how to deal with it is going to be more complicated than simply banning texting.

The symposium, sponsored by Club Auto Sport, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Fiat, Ford, General Motors, Kia, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen, started with a hands-on view of the divergent paths that the auto world is currently taking. In the parking lot available for driving evaluations were five different approaches to the automotive future:

  • Pure electric cars, which were represented by the prototype e-Golf, Chevy Spark EV, Fiat 500e and Ford Focus Electric.
  • Plug-in hybrids represented by the Ford C-Max Energi.
  • Hybrids were represented by the Kia Optima Hybrid and VW Jetta Hybrid.

    Kia,Optima Hybrid,future cars

    The Kia Optima Hybrid attracted a crowd

  • Diesels representing by a Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, VW Passat TDI and a second Passat TDI running on Solazyme’s SolaDiesel renewable diesel. The latter showcases a biofuel path that would replace petroleum diesel or gasoline with a bio-based fuel that would present a greener carbon footprint as well as reduced emissions.
  • Advanced technology gasoline vehicles were represented by the 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander, which, in addition to offering more than 30 mpg in a seven-passenger SUV, has adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and forward collision mitigation. The latter technology will alert the driver of an impending crash and apply the brakes if the driver fails to.
  • Missing from the collection of cars and trucks was a fuel cell vehicle. Although that technology path was not present, Toyota and other manufacturers have said they would have vehicles on sales by 2015.

Automotive Electronics/Smartphones & Cars

The technology suite found in the Mitsubishi in the ride-and-drive provided a good segue to the first panel of program, which featured Dr. Beiker and Ford Silicon Valley Lab leader T.J.  Giuli discussing new electronic systems in automobiles and whether they are making vehicles safer or less safe by introducing new sources of distraction.

The two agreed that the path forward with electronics was not clear, which consumers expecting more connectivity and technology in cars and automakers challenged to keep up because of the short product cycle for electronics compared to automobiles. “How do we keep up?” Giuli mused. But he added that new features such as AppLink promise to bring smartphone applications seamlessly in the car. Beiker suggested that maybe it was a matter of car companies needing to “explain to consumers what they need” because the market pull at the present was stronger than the technology push.

The vision of an autonomous, self-driving car, while technically feasible now, is still at least a decade away from practical use, according to the panelists.

Zero/Near-zero Emission Cars

Later, discussion turned to powertrains and fuels of the future with Dr. Alberto Ayala, deputy executive officer of the California Air Resources Board (CARB); Dave Barthmuss, group manager, environment, energy & policy communications for General Motors; and Roland Hwang, transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The three were challenged to give a view of where the automotive world is headed and what we might be driving as cars move toward the 2025 goal of 54.5 mpg.

Dr. Ayala said “we know the path” we have to take in California to reach state emissions goals; it involves decarbonizing energy and fuels and boosting efficiency in vehicles. “We need to get to zero/near-zero emissions vehicles (ZEVs), which means battery electrics and fuel cells.” The challenge now is to incentivize the market and generate consumer interest in the cars that will help the state reach its goals, he added.

CARB-ARB-NRDC-GM-environment

Future Cars Panel

In CARB’s view by 2040 every new car sold has to be a zero emission vehicle and by 2050 the state expects 90 percent of the cars on the road to be ZEVs. The other challenge is to get drivers to reduce the number of miles they drive.

Hwang said the auto industry faces an “innovate or die” situation. High oil prices have radically reshaped the world of the automobile in his view and he sees auto companies changing and adapting to this new world. According to Hwang’s assessment, the industry is making good progress toward the 54.5 mpg goals. He cited a University of Michigan study that found industry fuel economy at an all-time high last year at 29.8 mpg. He also noted that California expects to have 30,000 electric cars registered by the end of 2013, which is about 50 percent higher than had been predicted.

Barthmuss noted that with the introduction of the Cadillac ELR early next year GM will have three electric vehicles on the market – it will join the similar Chevy Volt extended-range EV and the Chevy Spark EV. “We’ve bet the farm on electrification,” he said, noting this is “not a moonshot.”  In addition to its electric moves, GM is pursuing a “no silver bullet” approach, introducing stop-start on its high-volume Malibu model this year, adding a bi-fuel gas-CNG Impala model and bumping up fuel economy on vehicles from its full-size pickups to the Corvette (which now gets 29 mpg on the highway).

But he also offered a cautionary note on fuel cells. During his company’s recent Project Driveway that put 100 fuel cell-powered Equinox SUVs in consumer hands, they were limited to two zip codes for distribution of the vehicles because of a lack of infrastructure. Along with limited infrastructure issues, Barthmuss also said his optimism for the future is tempered by the challenge of driving the market in the direction of efficiency.

In questions about the potential trade-offs between focusing on reducing both criteria pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, Ayala admitted that “we want to have our cake and eat it too,” but he held out that the CARB standards (and the federal ones as well) are performance-based so they don’t favor any specific technology and will allow for potential new technology in the future.

Challenged on how large, work-oriented vehicles like full-size pickup trucks (which represent some of the best-selling vehicles in the country) could become zero emission vehicles, Ayala speculated that adding fuel cell technology could be one path industry could take to reach the ZEV goal. He also noted that the lack of hydrogen fueling infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles was being addressed by the state through recent legislation that guaranteed funding for enough stations to support the initial introduction of the vehicles.

To sum up the day-long program and paraphrase the philosopher Heraclitus, the only thing constant about the future will be change. The 100-plus year-old auto industry is heading into uncharted territory as it grapples with change inside and out of the vehicle. Electronic technology promises to radically alter the interaction of the driver and vehicle, even as the propulsion technology and fuel shifts to new ground and, in some cases, necessitating new lifestyles. One thing is clear, “Future Cars, Future Technology” will be an ever-changing topic for years to come.

For more on these subjects, please check out:

California helps Drivers Plug In

Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segment’s Future

Top 10 Markets for Electric Cars

Your Next Vehicle – Save Gas, Save The Planet Excerpt

Your Next Vehicle – Save Gas, Save The Planet Excerpt

© flickr.com/blisspix/3884805244/Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Save Gas, Save the Planet: John Addison’s book about hybrid and electric cars, pathways to low carbon driving, and the future of sustainable transportation. © 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.

Your Next Vehicle

Many Americans are going through decisions similar to the Eubanks. They are interested in ending the ridiculous amounts of money they spend at the pump. They do not know whether to get a new vehicle now, or wait for much better fuel economy with future cars such as plug-in hybrids. They want to save gas, but not at the expense of safety.

The decision is easier for those households with two or more vehicles. The vehicle with the best fuel economy can be used to put on the most miles. If all the vehicles are gas guzzlers, this is a great time to replace one.

If you’re ready to buy now, first consider cars that get at least 30 miles per gallon. If you can afford it, don’t settle for less than 40 miles per gallon. Too many people settle for half that mileage or worse, spending thousands of extra dollars each year. You do not need to wait for future technologies or even invest in a full-featured plug-in hybrid, hydrogen, or electric vehicle. Do not let your decision be clouded with claims about ethanol, biodiesel, and flexfuel. Thanks to new designs and materials, most car buyers can afford a car that offers over 30 miles per gallon (mpg).

When you have a few likely candidates, investigate their safety ratings. Safercar.gov rates most cars with one to five stars in the following safety categories: frontal driver, frontal passenger, side driver, side rear passenger, and rollover. High mileage champions like the Toyota Prius score 4 stars, or better, in all categories. The larger Toyota Camry Hybrid scores higher with 5 stars in all categories except a 4 in rollover. The smaller Smart Fortwo scores 3 in some categories. The Ford Escape Hybrid scores 5 in all categories except a 3 in rollover safety. The massive Chevrolet Suburban also scores 5 in all categories except a 3 in rollover safety.

After investigating your needs, fuel economy, and safety, it is highly beneficial to take test drives and even rent your top candidate for a couple of days.

If you can wait until the end of 2010, your choices will be amazing. You will be able to buy a vehicle that gets 100 miles per gallon or a zero-emission electric vehicle.

By going on an energy diet we can have healthy cities, be energy independent, and stop global warming. If we improve gas mileage by only 4 percent annually for 22 years, we could cut vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent.

Will improved mileage ever be accomplished? Yes, in fact, in Europe, there are over 100 car models that get 40 miles per gallon. In Asia, over 40 million people drive light electric vehicles – a trend that will be detailed in the next chapter. In the United States, there is tremendous innovation in plug-in hybrid technology, electric drive systems, advanced batteries, and fuel cells.

We are just getting started with fuel economy innovation.

The Loire Valley in France brings images of magnificent castles, breathtaking landscape, superb wine, and driving 10,705 miles per gallon. Yes, you read that right – over 10,000 mpg and the fuel was gasoline. A team of students at La Joliverie won the Shell Eco-Marathon race with this remarkable fuel economy. It was not an electric vehicle. It was not even a hybrid. The vehicle was shaped for minimal wind resistance. The vehicle was also built with new materials that are lighter, stronger, and available in some new models now in car showrooms.

The Loire vehicle would not be practical for many people. It could not go fast. It only held one person. It was so low to the ground that the driver was required to lie flat. However, many vehicles with good mileage are practical.

We have one global trend towards fuel and energy efficiency, and an opposing force towards increased consumption. Our future depends on efficiency being the winner. Amory Lovin’s and his colleagues at the Rocky Mountain Institute have calculated that moving our typical car with its internal combustion engine wastes over 90 percent of the energy content in the gasoline used. If it is a 200-pound driver in a 4,000-pound vehicle, then 98 percent of the energy was not used in moving the person.

Fortunately, there are many solutions. In the chapters that follow we will evaluate fuels that are alternatives to petroleum including ethanol, biodiesel, natural gas, and hydrogen. We will hear from people driving plug-in hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles. The best solution for you depends on your particular needs.